Word is, filming of 'The Alamo' will fall to Texas
There's no official comment, but locals say workers are building sets near Hamilton Pool
BYLINE: Joe O'Connell, SPECIAL TO THE AMERICAN-STATESMAN
DATE: May 18, 2002
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman (TX)
If you build it, will they film?
That's the sticky question surrounding construction of sets for Ron Howard's proposed Disney remake of "The Alamo" north of Dripping Springs, near Hamilton Pool in western Travis County.
"Yes, they're hiring people and, yes, there is activity out there," said Tom Copeland, director of the Texas Film Commission. "But we're still sitting like everybody else waiting for them to say yea or nay."
A metal gate leads to the private ranch where a flurry of activity has been noted this week. A security guard blocks the entrance and freely admits what is the worst-kept secret in the area: They are building the "Alamo" film set inside. But admittance is strictly limited to workers.
Speaking at the Governor's Mansion in March, Howard and producing partner Brian Grazer of Imagine Entertainment said they were interested in geographic accuracy but hinted that the lure of filming incentives in Canada is enticing to studio executives dealing with a potential $100 million movie.
"It wouldn't quite make sense to make it anywhere else," Howard said then of Texas.
Since hobnobbing with Gov. Rick Perry, Howard went on to win Oscars for best director and best picture this year for "A Beautiful Mind." The director, also known for his roles on "The Andy Griffith Show" and "Happy Days," directed "Apollo 13," "Backdraft" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" among other popular movies.
A spokesperson for Imagine Entertainment at the film's Los Angeles production office said no comment can be made on the official shooting location until a publicist is assigned to the film.
In the neighborhood around the construction site, caravans of trucks are a familiar sight. At Hamilton Twelve, an events facility, owner Georgia Coleman has had inquiries from Imagine about rentals for luncheons but nothing definite. "There's a little bit of a buzz in the neighborhood," she said. "Mostly it's talk of how much beer sales will go up at Bert & Ernie's."
The sign outside Bert & Ernie's General Store, a convenience store, restaurant and pool hall, advertises beer, ice, bait, groceries and movies. No movie stars so far have been spotted (none have been cast), but "Alamo" workers who stop in for a cold one make no secret about what their business entails.
"A lot of people stop in here for lunch or on their way out there," Sandra Soto said from her perch behind the cash register. "I hear little bits and pieces from them."
Soto has seen a slew of gravel and cement trucks go down the road and was among the first to know when phones lines were installed on the set. "It's fixing to get real busy," one worker said as he handed her cash in exchange for a six-pack of beer.
Joe Gieselman, Travis County's executive manager of transportation and natural resources, said the county has only limited ordinances to govern construction of the set, but he is scheduled to meet Monday with an engineer for the project.
Unconfirmed word is that up to 80 buildings and an Alamo replica will simulate 19th-century San Antonio. Some say the newly built old town will be burned to the ground during filming, which is not likely to begin until fall.
That is, if filming does indeed occur.
Copeland, familiar with the fickle turns of the movie industry, says it's important to remember that the film business is a business. "We feel confident everything is going to work out," he said, "but as far as a formal announcement, there isn't one."
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
'Chainsaw' production revving up
Filmmakers hope they'll end up with a terrifyingly beautiful movie
BYLINE: Joe O'Connell, SPECIAL TO THE AMERICAN-STATESMAN DATE: September 6, 2002 PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman (TX) SECTION: Movies and More
It's almost midnight at a closed mental hospital on the outskirts of Austin. A curvaceous blonde in flared jeans and a tight T-shirt tears across a field and bangs her open palms on the door of a rotting trailer home. "Please let me in!" she screams. "Please help me!"
Cut. Marcus Nispel, director of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," yells for more smoke and what looks like a Weed Eater on steroids whirs to life in front of a giant fan. On the video monitor this hillside spot under a giant oak tree gets suitably eerie.
"Quiet all around, guys!"
The blonde, Jessica Biel of television's "7th Heaven" fame, bangs on the door again. This time it is opened by Heather Kafka, an Austin actress best known as Chloe on the late MTV series "Austin Stories." Biel seeks refuge in the trailer from you know who, the man who's fond of wearing human skin.
In a case of truth neatly aligning with fiction, the former home for the mentally infirm is real. A hillside field of sunken graves belonging to its former residents overlooks a prison just a few feet from the make-believe of the set. All goes unnoticed by the hive of crew members trying to get the perfect, scary shot.
Welcome back to Austin, "Chainsaw." After a handful of sequels, this time the gang from Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes production company is in town to remake the 1974 low-budget creepy that is either the scariest film of all time or a goofy, hippie-generation memory of the Austin that was.
"I hope everybody gives it a chance," Biel says between takes. "Just give us a shot. I think we'll shock people by how good we make this. We're really trying to make it realistic, terrifying and beautiful at the same time."
Biel was attracted to the part for its action, and the strong character she plays in the film.
"We don't really think about it," she says of Tobe Hooper's original film. "This is a different interpretation. We do want the cult following of the movie to be able to respect it."
For the generation that doesn't know the original but was weaned on grinning homages like "Scary Movie," Biel sees a clear motive: "We want to scare them to death."
Count Morgan Dover-Pearl, a recent Southern Methodist University theater grad, on the list of "Chainsaw" virgins. And her uncle Daniel Pearl is The Link.
Sure, original director Hooper and his co-writer Kim Henkel are credited as co-producers and provided the first draft of a script. But Pearl, the 23-year-old, wet-behind-the-ears cinematographer on the first film, is back in the same role at age 52, his goatee streaked with gray, his head now shaved clean.
"People ask me, 'Is it going to be as gritty and grainy as the last one?' No. I did that," Pearl says. "There's no point in making the exact same film with the exact same look."
And his return has more to do with a long working relationship with Nispel on music videos such as The Fugees' "Ready or Not."
"The intended audience -- I shoot for them," Pearl says. "It's not a stretch."
Proud mom Marietta is on the set today. Her other son, Austin lawyer Tom Pearl, is playing a detective -- and she was there with advice about Daniel Pearl's return to "Chainsaw."
"I said, 'I think you should do it. It's been very good for you on your resume,' " she says as the family joins the movie crew under a tent during a dinner break.
What did she think of the original?
"I thought it was funny," she says.
"It was supposed to be," Pearl responds.
"Well, you made it," Marietta says.
Brad Fuller, clad in a Hutto track team T-shirt, surveys the set and looks more like a gaffer than one of the guys in charge. He and fellow producer Andrew Form have fallen for Hutto, the tiny town they drive past on the way to film locations in Taylor, Circleville and Walberg. Shooting continues in the area until, appropriately, Friday the 13th.
"The Fighting Lady Hippos," Fuller says. "You've got to love that."
Fuller joined with Form and college pal Bay to create Platinum Dunes with a goal of making films for less than $15 million each. "Chainsaw" should come in at under $10 million, he says, and the horror genre fit perfectly with their plans.
Filming days are long, but Nispel is efficient, Fuller says.
"A lot of people think remaking a classic film is a no-win proposition," Fuller says.
"We don't agree. In our minds we are retelling a story based on Ed Gein's life. We're trying to tell a little different story than they told in the original."
Gein, a 1950s mass murderer from the Midwest who wore the skin of his victims, is seen as the inspiration for film characters ranging from Norman Bates in "Psycho" to Buffalo Bill in "The Silence of the Lambs" to Leatherface in the many "Chainsaw" films.
Leatherface isn't on the set as Biel runs from him to the door of the decrepit trailer. If he were, you likely wouldn't be reading this because the media has been kept at a distance from the villain's latest incarnation. A Texas Monthly writer was asked to leave for fear he'd reveal Leatherface's newest look. Rumors are that his human skin mask is kept hidden until the camera rolls.
But there is no doubt he is somewhere lurking behind Biel as she cowers in the trailer. Cut. A production assistant hands out Krispy Kreme doughnuts, while another doles out mosquito spray. Biel exits the trailer and prepares for yet another take. Smoke billows across the set and dissipates among the very real graves of the dearly departed.
Rookie of the year
Austin and Texas -- a double-header for Disney film crew
BYLINE: Joe O'Connell, Austin American-Statesman DATE: June 1, 2001 PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman SECTION: Lifestyle PAGE: F3
The idyllic country cottage has a screened-in back porch and a husband, wife and three adorable kids at the kitchen table enjoying a hearty breakfast. It's also in the middle of a basketball court at the former Del Valle High School and surrounded by wires, cameras, giant wormlike air vents and the hot glow of the movie biz.
Welcome to Disney's "The Rookie," the only studio film to start production in Austin in 2001. Filming ends next week, weather willing.
Soggy turf moved cameras this day from a Thorndale ballpark to the high school doomed to close because of noise from the nearby airport. When the city took over Bergstrom Air Force Base, a deal was struck to build new Del Valle schools farther from the noise. Now brittle leaves scatter in silent high school hallways leading to the set.
Fake trees skirt the back porch. Australian Rachel Griffiths bids her kids adieu in a Texas twang and gives Dennis Quaid a peck on the cheek.
A few feet away first-time director John Lee Hancock watches on a monitor and instructs 7-year-old cutie Angus T. Jones to hold his spoon like a baseball bat, take a big bite of Cap'n Crunch and grin at Daddy Quaid.
"The Rookie" is destined to be categorized as a baseball film, and that's not a bad thing to producer Mark Ciardo, a former Milwaukee Brewer whose company was also behind the teen flick "The New Guy," which used much of the same local crew when it filmed here in the winter. It proved a boon to folks such as 14-year-old Trevor Nelson, who worked as a camera intern on both films and got to experience the ultimate film fantasy -- holding the slate at the start of each new take.
"Originally we were going to Vancouver," Ciardo said of "The New Guy" shoot. "In the end it was a random choice, but everybody was talking about Austin."
Both "The Rookie" and Texas were clearer picks this time around for Ciardo, who roomed during his first spring training with the film's real-life inspiration.
But Hancock, a laid-back, tanned Denis Leary look-alike, insists "The Rookie" is not a baseball movie, but simply a Texas film.
"As much as it's a movie with a backdrop of baseball, it's more than that," he said. "It's a Texas movie in the tradition of 'Hud' or 'The Last Picture Show.' "
Look at the stats: a true story of Jim Morris, a 35-year-old Big Lake science teacher and baseball coach who agrees to try out for the big leagues if his team makes the playoffs. They do, he does and he quickly is pitching in the majors for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Base hit.
Quaid grew up in Houston. Double.
And Hancock, a Longview native raised in Texas City, is Texas to the bone. His brother Kevin, lurking on the set, even played pro football. Home run and touchdown, bubba.
A Baylor grad whose law-school running buddies included Austin Mayor Kirk Watson (his eminence has a bit part as a school administrator) and Hyde Park Baptist Church attorney Richard Suttle, Hancock is a lawyer turned screenwriter turned director.
His crash course for the latter came when he penned "A Perfect World," starring Kevin Costner and directed by Clint Eastwood in Central Texas in the early 1990s.
Hancock's only directing experience is for television, but he steels himself with thorough preparation.
"It's fun, exhausting and at times terrifying," he said of directing. "Some days you feel you really accomplished something. Other times you're reminded it's a ticking clock and there's a lot of money being spent."
Yet the set is relaxed. Filming stops; Quaid gooses his make-believe son, who squeals and leaps from the stage gripping a rubber alligator. Workers relocate the camera and lift a kitchen wall magically into place for the next shot.
In the hallway two of the three triplets who portray the Morris toddler run in wide, laughing circles.
Hancock apologizes to Denise Spicher, mother of 5-year-old Rebecca of McKinney, for making her daughter eat too much cereal in take after take.
Spicher's eyes gleam and she says, "It hasn't quite hit me that this is going to be a movie."